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Monday, Mar 4, 2024

Conflict Emerges Over Right to Protest and Right to Listen

Author: [no author name found]

I have never been a very politically-oriented person, and so I was unsure of how I felt about the protest that took place during the Ari Fleischer lecture on Oct. 13. While I agree that pre-emptive attacks should be avoided, I did not feel that this protest was called for, considering the reason for Fleischer's appearance on campus. I do not agree that giving him an Alumni Achievement Award signifies the College's support of the Bush administration. Whether or not you agree with the views and actions of the man for whom he works, the fact remains that Fleischer is good at what he does. Very good. And that is what the College recognized on Sunday.
That being said, while I waited for the doors of Mead Chapel to open and watched as the line of protesters marched up to the base of the hill, I felt torn. All of a sudden, I felt more drawn to their views than I had previously considered myself to be. And I was angry when some students began to show disrespect toward the protesters; after all, they had every right to be there. My feelings of indecision continued while I sat in Mead, waiting for the lecture to begin. As far as I could tell, the protesters were being true to their word. They were holding, as the title of the editorial in last week's Campus stated, "A Respectful Protest."
Yet, my opinion swiftly changed when President McCardell, Fleischer and Alumni Association President Kim Loewer entered the chapel. The disrespect shown to our College president, as well as Fleischer, was reprehensible. The authors of last week's editorial wrote: "Questioning of Bush's policy of 'regime change' should be forceful but constructive, and protesters … must ensure that the fine line between the two be walked carefully during Fleischer's appearance at Mead Chapel. Otherwise the demonstration risks being drowned in its own cacophony of varied opinion and dissenting alternatives to Bush's war on Iraq … Demanding answers of Fleischer and hearing his responses in an atmosphere of respectful protest is the best means of gaining insight into a war that still has not been justified." Unfortunately, this was not accomplished. The demonstration, which began outside of Mead as a fine example of American democracy and the right to free speech, quickly deteriorated into a disgusting show of disrespect and disregard for differing opinions. The hissing and outbursts from protesters violated not only Fleischer's right to free speech but also, as McCardell put it, the audience's "freedom to listen."
Early in the evening, I was unsure of where I belonged. My political views, however limited, drew me towards the protest. As the night progressed, however, I was relieved and thankful that I had decided not to walk down the hill and join the demonstration. The overt display of disrespect shown on Sunday night was shameful. I am proud that I am able to say that I was not a part of it.

Alexandra Williams is a senior from Massachusetts.